01 February, 2009

Jacksonville and Florida Not Shovel Ready and Have Ignored the Transit Stimilus

How much more "Shovel Ready" could you want then this unfinished extension?

Sometimes one has to wonder at the completely blind eyes that lead in the State of Florida, Tallahassee, Florida Department of Transportation, City of Jacksonville and our own State Agency, The Jacksonville Transit Authority. At a time when the mayor is attempting to steal the dedicated rapid transit funds from JTA, as well as pull a sleight of hand with JTA's permanent funding, promising more and delivering less, you would think that JTA and FDOT would be in Washington, lobbying for the many great projects on the drawing boards.
Mayor Peyton has gone on record in the Florida Times Union newspaper with a very positive diatribe on rail, which, when boiled down lacks any substance what-so-ever. Outside of his family's Oil and Concrete business, the man seems helpless to grasp the most elementary concepts of transportation. He promises, to promise, to someday consider rapid transit or rail.

Peyton: Jacksonville could be rail center
Mayor says rail service could boost Jacksonville, but actions cast doubt on that notion.

By
Larry Hannan
Story updated at 5:12 AM on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009



A glorious future for train travel in Jacksonville sounded feasible...

Mayor John Peyton said with three interstate highways and three major railroad lines - CSX, FEC and Norfolk Southern - the Jacksonville area is poised to become a logistics center for rail in the Southeast. City Council President Ronnie Fussell said Jacksonville has been a key hub for rail since the 19Th century and would remain a major factor in the 21st.
But supporters of commuter rail, including two local members of Congress, are having trouble seeing that bright future. They see a city and state that aren't serious about passenger rail.
That frustration has intensified because of the stimulus package now working its way through Congress. A stimulus bill approved by the House of Representatives last week included $1.1 billion for rail, and the Senate is expected to vote on a stimulus package this week.
But none of the stimulus projects for which Jacksonville and the Florida Department of Transportation have requested funding includes a single rail project, essentially guaranteeing none of the money will be allocated for rail.
"The lack of leadership when it comes to transportation is stunning," said Robert Mann, a retired transportation consultant and longtime supporter of commuter rail in Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is now conducting a study into the feasibility of having commuter rail service from the suburbs into downtown Jacksonville. But the actions of city leaders suggest they are only giving lip service to rail, Mann said.
Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group, a consumer watchdog organization in Tallahassee, said the state hasn't shown any interest in rail, and its actions with the stimulus show it doesn't take rail seriously.
State Transportation Department spokesman Dick Kane said there were no rail projects that are "shovel ready" within the next 60 to 90 days. The Obama administration wanted projects that are ready to go immediately.
Most state rail projects need to acquire environmental permits and purchase land. And it's not clear if the Obama administration wants to pay for planning instead of actual construction, said David Lee, administrator of policy planning for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Peyton admitted no rail projects are ready for construction. He insisted the city is looking seriously at commuter rail and hopes to move forward with a plan in the next few years.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., blames the state government for the lack of rail projects.
An amendment to the Florida Constitution for high-speed rail was approved by voters in 2000, but it was later repealed, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush warned the amendment would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Florida is behind the times on rail, and supporters of train travel should express displeasure to state officials, Brown said.
She wanted $5 billion allocated to rail and is frustrated with the House stimulus bill, even though she voted for it.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also is unhappy with the House bill. Like every other Republican in the House, Mica voted against it and hopes the Senate can improve on what the House did.
But it's difficult to push for local projects when Florida and Jacksonville don't ask for anything, Mica conceded.
Mica hopes to get another crack at rail later this year when Congress considers a new highway bill.
We currently have BRT, Commuter Rail and Streetcar plans in some form of completed study, or even advanced studies. We have the Skyway - our downtown Monorail system which we have allowed embarrassment and some mystical inferiority complex trickle down from network news story's to nip the system in the bud, dead in it's tracks.
So what are we doing with the huge stimulus package? How much of our Mass Transit set-aside from the Better Jacksonville Plan will actually reach mass transit? How much funding will we then provide for O&M costs on the finished systems? What challenges are facing our city today?
What are we doing at the City of State levels? Sadly, as Larry points out in the paper nothing but lip service. Don't look for any California, North Carolina, Oregon-Washington, Illinois type train service improvements with these bumbling, old school auto lovers.
Couldn't we use our Mass Transit set-aside money to self finance something like a streetcar system, or Skyway, going after stimulus grants in a later phase? We could but Peyton wants to reduce the transit set-aside to zero, invest some of the money in Port Access Roads and the rest through a long and convoluted trail will end up in that giant hole downtown we call "The Courthouse Site."*(see note below) So in short, no we probably won't see a cent of the money we voted for transit actually go to transit, even though with smoke and mirrors, we'll be told it does.
Equally sad, so determined to leave a legacy project from his fruitless administration of the City, Peyton even plans to betray the taxpayers and remove the dedicated O&M money from JTA, putting the bus system on a month to month retail sales tax subsidy. This is a subsidy that will look very much like the first 35 years of Amtrak, never predictable, never enough, impossible to plan for or with.
Yet they are all whining that "We don't have shovel ready plans... Obama wants shovel ready plans you know..."
"WE DON'T HAVE SHOVEL READY PLANS!"
CITIZENS OF JACKSONVILLE - THAT IS A PATENT LIE!


We have several projects that have been so thoroughly planned that a local group from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Children's choir from the 1St A.M.E. church downtown could probably build them with a few dollars.

SKYWAY: The Skyway is already to go to the stadium, already engineered, already designed, right-of-way in City hands. There are similar plans to the Riverside-Blue Cross-Fidelity buildings, including exclusive right-of-way on Riverside Avenue. Further, the engineering and studies to take it north to Shand's Hospital or South toward San Marco were also underway at one time, though I know Shand's is pretty complete, the San Marco line is an unknown.

BRT: We are very close to having everything needed to tackle the Northwest BRT line up Boulevard to Gateway Mall and beyond to the I-295 belt-way.

"S" LINE: Needed for Commuter Rail, Light Rail and neutral access by rail freight carriers, this former Seaboard Mainline right-of-way continues to get a new bicycle trail on top of it courtesy of the Peyton Administrations Parks and Recreation Department. Recent estimates by railroad contractors place the cost of replacing that line at no more the $10 Million per mile.





FLORIDA EAST COAST REGIONAL PASSENGER TRAINS: Yes, we should be the hub of rail passenger service to Florida. Our depot rivals the great stations in Los Angeles, or Washington, DC.. The state planned a major rail expansion back in the 1980's through the mid 1990's by bringing back the passenger train to the FEC. The studies consumed some $50 Million Dollars and the state even committed to capacity expansion. This happened right when Amtrak was prevented by the Bush Administration from adding any more trains or routes. So here we sit, with a 10 year old plan in our lap, trains curving through our west side neighborhoods, and no one is fighting to get them aimed south on The Speedway to America's Playground.

SUNSET LIMITED: Another project, this route was already funded, up and running, fully functional when hurricane Katrina pulled the plug on the many Gulf Coast Bridges. That is a problem fixed years ago and still no trains grace the line that we Floridians spent so many millions to upgrade for CSX. Tell me this isn't shovel ready.
So there you have it:
SKYWAY
BRT
AMTRAK REGIONAL
And not a chirp in a carload from our political arena. A slumbering giant, Jacksonville, sleeps while cities all around us jump for the golden ring of transportation excellence. Oh to be a "Charlotte", "Phoenix" or "Portland" just for a day, gentle reader, this is such blatant neglect, I'd even settle for being "Kenosha" or "Fort Smith".
*NOTE: (For out of town readers, this is another of "Peyton's Perils," as the new County Courthouse was fully funded under that BJP plan. Our fully funded Courthouse ran into Peyton's procrastinating mis-management team, lots were purchased, buildings leveled and studies started, then started again, then again, and now 6+ years later, we have a $200 Million dollar hole in the city).















TAKE A FREE TOUR OF THE JACKSONVILLE SKYWAY

The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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